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International Religious Freedom Report 2004
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country is an archipelago, which essentially consists of 3 islands in the Mediterranean Sea, and has a total area of 122 square miles. Its population is approximately 400,000. The overwhelming majority of citizens (approximately 95 percent) are Roman Catholic, and approximately 63 percent attend services regularly. While some political leaders diverge from Catholicism, most of the country's political leaders remain practicing Roman Catholics. On May 1, the country became a member of the European Union. Along with its European counterparts, the governing Nationalist Party, with its Christian democratic foundations, made a strong bid to include a reference to "Europe's Christian heritage" in the European Constitution.

Most congregants at the local Protestant churches are not Maltese; many British retirees live in the country, and vacationers from many other nations compose the remainder of such congregations. There are approximately 680 Jehovah's Witnesses, and 148 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). The Bible Baptist Church has 30 members and the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches has about 100 affiliates. There is one Jewish congregation. Zen Buddhism and the Baha'i Faith also have about 30 members each. There is one Muslim mosque and a Muslim primary school. Of the estimated 3,000 Muslims in the country, approximately 2,250 are foreigners, approximately 600 are naturalized citizens, and approximately 150 are native-born citizens.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

The Constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion and declares that the authorities of the Catholic Church have "the authority to teach which principles are right and which are wrong." The Government and the Catholic Church participate in a foundation, which finances Catholic schools where tuition is free. The foundation was established in 1991 as a result of the transfer of nonpastoral land to the State under the 1991 Ecclesiastical Entities Act. The Government subsidizes children living in Church-sponsored residential homes. There is one Muslim private school; work on a projected 500-grave Muslim cemeterydid not begin during the period covered by this report. Some governmental policies, such as a ban on divorce, reflect the teachings of the Catholic Church.

There are six religious holidays that are considered to be national holidays: The Motherhood of Our Lady (January 1); St. Paul's Shipwreck (February 10); Good Friday and Easter Sunday (dates vary between late March and April); the Assumption (August 15); and Christmas Day (December 25). These holidays do not affect any religious groups negatively.

Since 1991 all churches have had similar legal rights. Religious organizations can own property such as buildings, and their ministers can perform marriages and other functions. While religious instruction in Catholicism is compulsory in all state schools, the Constitution establishes the right not to receive this instruction if the student (or guardian, in the case of a minor) objects.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Abuses by Terrorists

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The Roman Catholic Church makes its presence and its influence felt in everyday life. However, converts from Catholicism do not face legal or societal discrimination, and relations between the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations generally are characterized by respect and cooperation. Proselytism by non-Catholic faiths is conducted freely and openly. To promote tolerance, school curriculums include studies in human rights, ethnic relations, and cultural diversity as a part of values education for students.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. Whenever possible, the Embassy advocates continued observance of basic human rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of religion. Both the Embassy's private discussions with government officials and its informational programs for the public consistently emphasize these points.

Through a variety of public affairs programs, the Embassy continues to work with different sectors of society, including religious groups, to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance. Among the Embassy's initiatives during the period covered by this report was a Ramadan Iftaar dinner hosted by the Ambassador for resident Muslim diplomats and community leaders and increased outreach to the local chapter of the World Islamic Call Society.

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